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Travel in Time
The town of Kamyanets-Podilsky is one of the major tourist attractions in Ukraine — its medieval walls and towers are an ideal “a must-see” for those who are romantically inclined. WU takes its readers on a tour to the past.
Photos: Olena KURSHYN
Indeed, the trip to Kamyanets-Podilsky is like traveling in time, as close to it as you can get without a time-machine. However, the town has not been frozen in time like an insect in a bubble of amber — it is a place where people not only come to see but where they actually live, and thus some catching up with progress in comfort and amenities had to be done.
And yet, it is the Kamyanets-Podilsky of old that tourists go to see rather than how people live today in this oasis of the past.
Kamyanets-Podilsky occupies the third place in Ukraine as to the number of architectural and historical landmarks.
The oldest part of town, Stare Misto (Old Town), is separated from the rest of the town by a canyon. There is a bridge that spans two sides of the canyon at the bottom of which runs the River Smotrych. Old Town, isolated by the river from the rest of Kamyanets-Podilsky, is a glorious sight in spring when it is submerged in the froth of vernal blossoms. As a matter of fact, in other seasons Old Town presents to the eye a sight equally arresting — the roofs look like
a bedcover as though patched together with multicolored pieces of cloth. Here and there you can see domes of churches rising above the patchwork. The Town Hall, the oldest one in Ukraine, makes itself seen from afar thanks to its prodigious height.
Historians have not been able to come to a consensus yet as far as the foundation date of Kamyanets-Podilsky is concerned. It can be considered firmly established though that the town, or rather the fortified place which developed into town, dates from at least the early thirteenth century. The town sat at the hub of the trade routes and it is but natural that it soon acquired the status of a trade center with many crafts. Guilds of craftsmen and of merchants subsidized the construction of bastions and defense towers. The names of the towers which have survived the ages indicate which guild had this or that tower built: Honcharska bashta suggests that this tower was built with the money donated by potters; Skornyazhna bashta is a clear indication that it was furriers who gave the money.
As long ago as in its early existence, the community of Kamyanets-Podilsky was made up of three major ethnic groups — Ruska (Ukrainian), Armenian and Polish. The old names for some parts of Old Town which are still in use, indicate where which ethnic community lived — the names Rusky and Polski filvark hardly require translation. In the Armenian quarter, one can still see an old trade center and an Armenian church.
Each ethnic community had its own self-government body, and the buildings of old community Town Halls (mahystraty) still stand. The Armenian one now holds a museum. Each of the communities had several churches — Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian. Out of twenty original ones, thirteen survive.
Among the churches of Kamyanets-Podilsky, the Cathedral of St Apostle Peter and St Apostle Paul stands out by its size and lavish design. From the year 1673 to the year 1699, Kamyanets-Podilsky was in the Turkish hands and the Turkish Muslims turned this church into a mosque. A minaret, about one hundred feet high, was built on the western side of the church. In 1699, the Land of Podillya, with Kamyanets-Podilsky in it, found itself included in the Polish Kingdom, and the mosque was turned back into a Catholic church. The minaret was not destroyed though — the only adaptation to Christian use was installation of a ten-foot statue of the Virgin Mary on the very top of it.
Virtually every street in Old Town boasts its own architectural style, or rather styles; each old building has an exciting story to tell.
From Old Town we proceed to the fortress, the central tourist attraction of Kamyanets-Podilsky.
To get from Old Town to Stara Fortetsya (Old Fortress), you have to cross the bridge. Because of the loop that the river makes, the bridge, built by the Turks in the seventeenth century, stretches not across the river, but along it and spans the distance between the right bank and once again the right bank — a thing no other bridge in the world does.
The rectangular fortress which can also be called “a castle” sits on solid rock. Eleven towers and bastions grace its walls.
Stara Fortetsya has had its share of sieges like any noble castle should, but it seems to lack another essential feature of an old castle — a resident ghost. Anyway, no ghosts regularly appearing in the castle have been reported. Probably too much blood has been spilled inside and outside the castle for romantic tales to emerge.
But there are quite a few legends that are associated with the castle. One of the Turkish commanders of the seventeenth century is said to have asked “Who has built this castle?” “God,” was the answer. On hearing this, the commander ordered the retreat of his troops, exclaiming, “Then let God storm it!”
During its long history the fortress of Kamyanets-Podilsky was captured only twice: the first time it was in 1393 when the Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas managed to capture the fortress thanks to a treachery, and in 1672, when the Turks had an overwhelming superiority in forces.
In the eighteenth century, a new fortress was built to the design provided by French fortification engineers. Locally it is referred to as Valy, that is Walls. Mock knight tournaments, which are held these days, attract many tourists.
In addition to such obvious things as the spectacular sights of an old castle, impressive environs and architectural and historical landmarks in abundance, Kamyanets-Podilsky offers a variety of events popular with tourists — all sorts of festivals, knight tournaments and a lot more that attract tourists.
You can take a ride, for example, in an armored car which has been adjusted for smoother rides. You can rent a bike and explore the town and its environs not on foot but riding a good bicycle.
One of the particularly popular festivals is an air balloons festival. According to the local lore, the first attempt to fly was made in Kamyanets-Podilsky in 1784.
Reenactments of events from the military history is another event that attracts a massive influx of tourists. It is called Terra Heroica and is annually held in October. Arguably it is the best known event of its kind in Ukraine. One of the festivals, Treasure Island, promotes folk music and folk crafts.
Since tourists, no matter how culturally demanding, happen to be human, they tend to get hungry — a wide variety of eateries that offer national dishes and dishes for all tastes take care of the feeding problem. New hotels are being built and “green tourism” is being developed.
The Ruska brama — one of the three
A general view of the Kamyanets Old Fortress.
An old well in the fortress.
The water drain in the shape of a dragon
In the Cathedral of St Apostle Peter and St Apostle Paul.
This Latin inscription on the gate in the fence
Tourists on their visits to Kamyanets can engage
The Solar Circle — an artifact created by blacksmiths
The charming old street leads to the Mykolayivska Church.